Congressional Hispanic Caucus Calls for Detained Migrants to Be Given Flu Shot After Death of Guatemalan Boy

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) demanded flu vaccines and substantive medical care for migrants Tuesday, after reports emerged that a boy died of the flu while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.

CHC chair Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) told The Hill that U.S. officials should do "the basic thing for people who are ill or could get ill" by giving migrants flu shots during flu season, as well as providing improved medical treatment.

"This is a matter of life and death whether the administration is willing to administer this flu shot," Castro said.

The call for action on vaccines and improved medical treatment for migrants was sparked in part by concern over conditions which advocates claim have resulted in the deaths of a number of detained migrant children.

ProPublica reported Thursday that the May 19 death of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a migrant from Guatemala, was caused by the flu and occurred after CBP officials failed to provide adequate care that may have spared his life.

The death occurred after the CBP reportedly rejected a suggestion from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to vaccinate migrants.

Influenza viruses are responsible for at least 290,000 annual deaths around the world, according the World Health Organization (WHO). Flu vaccines are a safe and effective way of reducing the likelihood of acquiring the virus, as well as lessening the severity of the illness if it is acquired.

vaccine injection
Medical experts recommend annual flu shots for every person aged 6 months or older, with rare exceptions. Getty

CHC member Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), who is a medical doctor, believes that failing to heed the CDC recommendation was ill-advised, as the conditions in CBP holding areas are even more conducive to the spread of disease than for the general population.

"In fact, the CDC did a report studying from December 2018 [to] January 2019, they found the cases of flu in those holding cells within CBP was more prevailing than in the nation," Ruiz told The Hill. "So we know that those areas are high risk to get the flu, especially when your immune system is weakened by a lack of caloric intake, lack of rest."

In addition to the allegedly poor state of medical treatment for detained migrants, Castro also said that the administration's policy is harming migrants in ways that continue after deportation, asserting that asylum seekers who are turned away are from the U.S. are often forced to live in "dangerous Mexican cities" that the U.S. government advises American citizens to avoid. He encouraged President Donald Trump to visit some of those cities, to see the "consequences of his policy."

"You can get rid of a problem without solving it and that's what the Trump administration has done," said Castro at CHC's Tuesday press conference. "Asylum seekers have rights throughout the world, whether they petition to come to the United States or Canada or anywhere else around the world. This president has treated them without humanity."